Rewriting the Metafilter Guidelines December 6, 2001 9:54 AM   Subscribe

Your Impossible Mission, should you choose to accept it... is to re-examine the MetaFilter Guidelines, and rewrite them, or discuss whether or not they need to be. [more]
posted by ZachsMind to MetaFilter-Related at 9:54 AM (32 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

As shown below, there have been a lot of questions recently about the use of MeFi by participants which is sometimes covered by the guidelines and sometimes not, but apparently not to the liking of many. What follows is an attempt to organize them into something that could eventually evolve into a new FAQ for newcomers and veterans to MeFi alike. The present state of the MeFi Guidelines could be used as an outline. Focus should go towards describing 1) What makes a good post on MetaFilter, and 2) What makes a bad post on MetaFilter. Or you may opt to create your own outline. Your research into this matter could include but not be limited to the following threads of investigation.

Guidelines and Suggestions
Front Page Posts - their purpose, function and execution.
When Long Front Page Posts (LFPP) Are Acceptable
[More] Inside Technique
Usage of profanity
Double Posting Is there a statue of limitations?
Topic Readdressing - When to create a new post about an old topic. Usage of MeFi Search Function.
Nonenglish sites - When is it okay?
Getting To Know You threads which ask the community a question to encourage chatty conversation but have no real meat in the post or link are generally frowned upon, but occasionally acceptable.
Selflinking is acceptable inside comments if it contributes to the already established topic of that thread. Never acceptable in FPPs.
Editorializing one's own FPP - the pros and cons.
Overlinking - When do you really need more than one?
Overposting - Is it an issue?

Ramifications of good posting
Accentuating the positive - You'll achieve the appreciation and respect of your peers.
There really should be more beneficial ramifications to being a good poster, shouldn't there? Or should there?

Ramifications of poor posting
Deletion and knowing that Matt thinks you're a weiner.
Community Self-Policing - the pros and cons.
MetaTalk Tribunal - Participants have the right to question at any time the validity of any FPP.
Why guidelines exist - if there's no moderation or censorship, this place will just be Usenet. Freeform discussion fast spins out of control.


Care may also be taken to incorporate information about what makes a good or bad comment to any given MetaFilter thread. Scrutiny may also befall the About page to better communicate to newcomers the definition of MetaFilter, how it has been utilized in the past and how the masses hope to see it used in the future.

One's Trash Is Another's Treasure - tone, content, audience savvy, topic focus, topic drift, etc.
Preview, Post, and Spellcheck - Once you hit the Post button, there's no turning back.
Taste and tact or the lack thereof. Overuse of sarcasm, and how too much derails a thread.
Handles versus real name usage inside the MeFi community.
Chat Threshold - How many comments by one person to any given thread before it's no longer tolerated?
Racism is stupid. Save yourself the trouble. Just don't do it.
Being a Smartass is sometimes a bad thing, for both comments AND posts.
MeFi Evolution How it started, how the backend politics work, what to expect, and what not to expect.
Terms Used a revisit of the Lexicon to expand MeFi specific definitions to phraseology, and links to places offsite which would educate the masses.

I don't have to stress the significance of this matter. Your efforts may be crucial in deciding whether the guidelines actually need to be rewritten, and if so, how. Your accomplished report may or may not be perused by anyone. It might be considered and it might be ignored. One should not assume their words will be final, but will most probably be scruitinized and dissected, then perhaps absorbed into a final draft encompassing the thoughts of many MeFi participants, both veteran and newcomer. It will no doubt NOT be used in its entirety. This impossible mission is being brought to your attention without the request of any Powers That Be. However, in theory your efforts could be considered along with the works of other members in the MeFi Force, and if a redress of the Guidelines is accomplished, hopefully it will appeal to the community, and some of the recent concerns will be comforted.

As always, should you or any member of your MeFi Force be policed or trolled, The Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions. This post will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck!
posted by ZachsMind at 9:55 AM on December 6, 2001

what is wrong with the guidelines we already have for posting, zach? rather than suggest a whole new set of guidelines, why not simply propose changes in response to those issues you don't feel are currently being addressed?
posted by moz at 10:04 AM on December 6, 2001

I don't think it really matters. I would guess that most people do not read the guidelines at all. I can't say I've ever read them and I certainly didn't read them when I first signed up.
posted by corpse at 10:48 AM on December 6, 2001

Back in the day when I had a job, part of it was to know what people will actually read on the web.

People don't wade through long, elaborate, detailed sets of guidelines for something they think they already pretty much know how to do.

The only mandate to add more rules would be if there were some rules that definitively determined what type of post would be deleted. However, there aren't, and Matt has said he doesn't want them.

As it is, the current guidelines work about as well as any guidelines are going to. The best thing you can really hope for with guidelines is to get a poster to stop and think before clicking the [Post] button.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:49 AM on December 6, 2001

Zach, I couldn't read your post due to the small tags around it, so I removed them, and now see it's quite lengthy. Perhaps this could serve as a list of relavent metatalk posts off the guidelines, I'm not sure yet.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:59 AM on December 6, 2001

Regularly reading Matt's comments in metatalk does it for me.
posted by Voyageman at 11:09 AM on December 6, 2001

This post will self-destruct in five seconds.

Promises, promises.
posted by anapestic at 11:10 AM on December 6, 2001

Guidelines? Metafilter has guidelines? I just did a search of MetaFilter Home, and the word "guidelines" does not appear once. How is anyone new supposed to find them?
posted by mischief at 11:31 AM on December 6, 2001

Guideline #1: Do not anything longer than 500 pixels in height, because I will not read it.
posted by dogmatic at 11:41 AM on December 6, 2001

Would it help to link to the guidelines, separately from "About", on the front page?
posted by liam at 11:42 AM on December 6, 2001

I think you guys are being unduly negative. Zach has done a lot of work here, and although it may take some time to digest, I think it could be a good thing. Even if people don't read and absorb the guidelines before they ever post, it would be nice to have a "collected wisdom" document to refer to, and refer people to, when there are discussions about these issues, or when people come here looking for guidance, as they do. At least consider not slagging the idea right off the bat.

Liam's idea is good too.
posted by rodii at 12:00 PM on December 6, 2001

"why not simply propose changes in response to those issues you don't feel are currently being addressed?"

Point of order: I have no problem with the guidelines as they are today. I don't want over half the suggestions considered. I like long front page posts. I don't mind overposting or self-linking. I mean this goes against the grain of my personal beliefs with what MeFi could be and should be. However, I'm trying to look at this issue objectively, not subjectively. Despite my personal opinion, there are valid points being made in the above links. I don't agree with all of them, but it's not my opinion that matters here.

Many other participants have problems with how some people participate, as is evident in over a score of MetaTalk posts and comments I address in my original comment to this post. There's so much dissatisfaction here, the only logical way I can personally see to address them is to rewrite the guidelines. If there's a better solution, I'm all ears.

"I would guess that most people do not read the guidelines at all."

That's my guess too. However they are there for people to refer to if they want to try to participate constructively. I will reluctantly admit they've helped me be... a little less annoying than I normally would be.

I'm looking for solutions to concerns, despite my personal best interests. I mean if I had my way, this place would make Usenet look downright fun. I don't want ANY guidelines. However, I'm aware my extreme is not suitable just as the opposite extreme of more rules is an unpleasant prospect. I'm looking for compromise. A happy medium somewhere. I'm trying to come halfway. Would you rather I tell everybody to shut up and get over it? Like the responses I read from some other people? There's valid grievances being addressed. They should be answered. Rather than whining every time a MeFi post someone doesn't like occurs, shouldn't we try to resolve the issues that cause these disliked posts in the first place?

"Zach, I couldn't read your post due to the small tags around it, so I removed them, and now see it's quite lengthy."

I'm aware it's quite lengthy; hence the small tag, but it's your pool. Perhaps a direct link to Matt's comments on the guidelines page would be sufficient, but if the average participant feels reading the guidelines are too much of an effort, then they certainly won't wade through all of that.

I propose that from what I referred to above, someone with better tact and brevity than myself would be able to come up with a summarization that would cover all the necessary ground and make everybody happy. Take twenty-eight threads and condense them into one or two paragraphs of suggestions - not guidelines per se. Ways to improve what's already there, or rewrite what's already in the guidelines into something of an improvement.

"The best thing you can really hope for with guidelines is to get a poster to stop and think before clicking the [Post] button."

Would that statement be sufficient to cover all the material in question? It certainly would cover some ground and is a step in the right direction.

"Perhaps this could serve as a list of relavent metatalk posts off the guidelines, I'm not sure yet."

My hope is that there are MeFi participants who can summarize this stuff in a way that I can't, and that you'll consider what s/he/they come up with, but thank you at least for being open-minded about what I offered, which is by no means sufficient. It's just the starting off point.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:00 PM on December 6, 2001

I think it would "help to link to the guidelines, separately from 'About'", particularly since when I see an "About" link, I think "Picture of people behind the scenes and inane, self-congratulatory ramblings, definitely NOT anything useful."
posted by mischief at 12:12 PM on December 6, 2001

Oh, and moz? You either instigated or were one of the first commenters to at least five of the 28 MetaTalk threads I addressed. So by questioning the validity of this thread, you're questioning your own past words as well. Just thought I'd point that out.
posted by ZachsMind at 12:18 PM on December 6, 2001

You guys ever read Lord of the Flies?
posted by Karl at 12:35 PM on December 6, 2001

To propose such an incredibly lengthy list of guidelines, I think, misses the whole point of what the site is about. Yes, we have lots of unwritten rules here, but part of the appeal of the site is the fact that it is not governed by a single dictatorial set of rules. What I think is a poor FPP might be just grand for someone else. I might comment that a thread sucks--that it's too long, or doesn't have enough description, or whatever. That doesn't mean I'm right and you're wrong. It means I have a criticism of it that we can discuss--or not. It only becomes a problem when someone takes it personally. And such a huge list of rules only benefits someone whose anxiety about being "called out" is overwhelming.

A MeFi FAQ is probably not a bad idea--if only to eliminate some of the oft-repeated MeTa questions. If that's what you're proposing, and if that's something Matt would be interested in seeing, I think it's a great idea. I'd be glad to help draft one, if necessary, as I've actually been calling for a clarification of the guidelines for some time. But etching rules in stone to short circuit every possible criticism someone might have is overkill, and would in fact be detrimental to the site.
posted by jpoulos at 12:39 PM on December 6, 2001

it would be nice to have a "collected wisdom" document

Agreed -- I also think this would be valuable in that regard, at least for discussions in MeTa. It seems like there's very little that actually gets decided, and this would help with that.

I want to say, though, the behavior that seems to have the worst effect on MeFi is the posting of negative, critical comments early in a thread. There are very few posts that wouldn't lead to decent, or at least not bad, threads, if only people simply decided not to post anything if they didn't have anything to contribute themselves.

Creating more guidelines is extremely unlikely to improve people's posting habits. And there's a risk it will increase the number of critical comments -- "This is a Bad Post. See Common Wisdom, section II, category A, subpoint iii." -- thereby ruining what might otherwise become good threads despite a weak FPP. (I, personally, think that the people who post "bad" posts and comments are probably going to do it anyway, and all this would do would be to make people feel more justified in initiating MeFi police actions.)

I think the problem, to whatever extent there is one, isn't so much with rules as it is with attitudes.
posted by mattpfeff at 12:56 PM on December 6, 2001

Very few people are going to read a long document about as pedantic a topic as a web site's posting guidelines. It's self-defeating. The kind of people who would read it don't need it.
posted by rcade at 1:57 PM on December 6, 2001

On a positive note, I think this thread, starting with a well-phrased news post, followed by a first comment with a really informative background link, shows how well things can go.
posted by liam at 2:09 PM on December 6, 2001

And by contrast, a really badly-phrased news post.
posted by liam at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2001

I deleted it, due to poor taste. The one below it isn't much better. Most of that post "I'm going to poop my pants" is totally pointless and juvenile.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:35 PM on December 6, 2001

You guys ever read Lord of the Flies?

Sucks to your as-mar!
posted by owillis at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2001

Zach has compiled an impressive list of 'user practices' guidelines. One of the coolest thing about MeFi is the few 'written rules' and emphasis following community practices.
If you're new to the site, I'd suggest taking a look around, checking out the archives, and getting a feel for the place. ....

After becoming a member, check out some of the links and think about leaving a comment or two. If you stick around for a while, you'll get a feel for what types of things are posted as links, and if you find something amazing and/or enlightening, please post it.
I'd say that the few written rules of MeFi are very democratic and focused on community as a whole.
  • Don't self-link. [Except in comments.]
  • Don't use MetaFilter as your guestbook, feedback or polling service. ["If you just wrote a thought provoking piece and want to get feedback on it, try using ArsDigita's Loquacious system or BlogVoices to add community interaction to your own site."]
  • [D]on't troll.
  • [T]reat others' opinions with the same respect that [you] would like to be afforded.
I also like the simplistic guidelines at briank's BKO Forum. My favorite is:
Have something to say. Quoting someone else's post and then adding "me too" or "ditto" is a waste of everyone's time and effort. It is perfectly acceptable to lurk.
posted by tamim at 4:42 PM on December 6, 2001

personally, i am going to bookmark this thread, just to have quick access to all of those MeTa threads that ZachsMind came up with, just to have as a handy reference. personally, i think the current guidelines are well written enough and all - at least enough that most people who followed them would not be attacked by the MeFi police - but it seems that too many people just don't care, either to read them or to follow them. on the other hand, having that list of relevant MeTa threads posted somwhere more prominent than here might help people who read the guidelines, but were still unclear about certain things.
posted by rorycberger at 10:20 PM on December 6, 2001

Did Matt rewrite the guidelines page recently, or am I just losing my mind? It reads a bit better than the last time I looked at it, but I never thought to save an older version so I could compare it to now. It mentions "textads" now, which is a relatively recent concept, but not after this thread.

If you did Matt, it looks good. If you didn't, well it still looks good. I got egg on my face or just need more caffeine or something. If some people still aren't happy after this, I'm pulling a Pilate.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:31 AM on December 7, 2001

Damned Pilate-pullers!
posted by rodii at 7:02 AM on December 7, 2001

Zach - you make it all worthwhile. You remind of me of my nine-year-old self when this Arithmetic teacher I had, called Miss de Boulay, a rancorous harridan of a woman, who crossed out twenty pages of extra homework I'd done, because she'd taught us how to do basic equations that morning and, when I sat down to do the set exercises I got carried away and did the whole chapter.
She said; "Don't try too hard, Cardoso - it's unbecoming! You don't want to be Clever Trevor all your life, do you, you annoying little boy?"
When that was exactly what I wanted to be. Thankfully, my parents saw me crying and went to my school the next day and took her down a peg or two.

But I've never forgiven her; just as some people here will never forgive you...
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:10 AM on December 7, 2001

Well there's a missed opportunity, Miguel - CleverTrevor would have made a perfect MeFi nick!
posted by rory at 7:31 AM on December 7, 2001

No it wouldn't.
posted by CleverTrevor at 10:22 AM on December 7, 2001

Miguel, I don't mean to call you out, but have you ever considered putting two spaces between your paragraphs? Two spaces is pretty standard on MeFI, and the Web at large, and it would make your posts much easier to read.
posted by Karl at 11:19 AM on December 7, 2001

Matt, you could probably pick up a handy stash of escudos by selling that username to Miguel. With the euro changeover approaching fast, he's probably looking to offload some...
posted by rory at 1:53 PM on December 7, 2001

"CleverTrevor's Profile
Homepage URL: http://

member since: December 7, 2001

CleverTrevor has posted no links to MetaFilter
and no threads and 1 comment to MetaTalk

Aw, how come CleverTrevor gets to join while Voyageman's cutie freezes her heels in the Oakland tundra?


Oh I see! The Oakland One is a guy, right? :)

posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:58 PM on December 7, 2001

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